The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

The Advent of Printing Part 3

grammarian; a book as familiar to the school-boy of the middle ages as Euclid was to the school-boy of yesterday. Of these early Donatuses, which are regarded as being among the very first productions of the new art, fragments of some twenty editions printed in Holland and about sixteen printed in Germany have survived. Unfortunately it did not occur to the printer of any of these that by adding to the little book his name and the date, he might achieve immortal fame. Whether Holland or Germany be the rightful claimant to priority, there is little doubt that the development of the invention may be referred to the decade 1440-50. And, since the time was ripe for the discovery, it is possible that the idea may have been part of the Zeitgeist of the age, and ingenious inventors may have been at work on parallel lines in both countries. On the other hand, it is not impossible that, as has been suggested, the German artificer derived inspiration from the first tentative essays put forth in Holland. Be that as it may, it was at Mainz that the art was first developed to a practical issue, and it was from Mainz that this momentous invention spread throughout Europe. The earliest piece of printing extant to which a definite date can be attached is an Indulgence printed at Mainz in 1454. Of this Indulgence, which was granted by Pope Nicholas V to such as should contribute towards the expense of the war against the Turks, there are two practically contemporary editions in different types, one consisting of thirty- one, the other of thirty lines. The former of these must have been printed on or before November 15, 1454, as is shown by the fact that in one of the surviving copies that date has been filled in.

With these indulgences three names are connected: Johann Gutenberg, a native of Mainz; Johann Fust, a goldsmith; and a younger man, Peter Schoeffer, who afterwards became Fust's partner and son-in-law. For the next four or five years the doings of these men constitute the story of the progress of printing, but the exact share that each bore in the work cannot be precisely defined. Gutenberg, who is regarded as the German inventor of printing, was the originator of the enterprise, and probably made his first experiments in the art during the latter part of his sojourn in Strassburg, continuing his investigations on his return to his native city of Mainz about 1446. Fust supplied the sinews of war in the shape of advances of money to Gutenberg, and afterwards assumed a more active share in the undertaking; while Schoeffer, who at first probably contributed mechanical skill, subsequently took chief part in the conduct of the business. When, in August 1456, Heinrich Cremer, vicar of St Stephen's Church at Mainz, recorded in a magnificent copy of the Bible1 the fact that the rubrication and binding of the book was then finished, he doubtless intended to express pride and satisfaction at the completion of the two fine volumes.